On Our Condition in the Humanities Global and Local Scene, or How to Dance at the two Weddings
What if one’s language is just like Hotel California*: "You can check it out any time you like, but you can never leave".
I owe some clarification to the reader why I am writing in a language other than Persian on this website. That might sound like a revolution in IAS**, caring for the Persianate culture as one of its inherent cause of existence. Indeed, it is mostly a sign of being interested in communicating with a broader audience in a lingua franca; just the same as writing in Arabic was the case for Avicenna and all the other scholars in the 10th-12th centuries of Iran, and it was the case for all those Turkish, Indian and other inhabitants of the Persophonia who spoke in Persian in the early modern ages. And one other thing which is crucial to understand the why behind I am writing in English, which showcases the macro-level of my decision, is that Iranians have to write in English if they want to survive within the contemporary institution of the university both in Iran and abroad.
I will discuss one aspect of the contradictory situation in which we are in the following points.
1. I was going to write my first post after a year, here, about what the notion of "peace" has to do with global historiography of architecture and how important it is in our conceptualizations and categorizations. Then I came to this fruit of a precondition for peace. Writing architectural histories regarding peace means acknowledging that all the nations, all of the cultures, regardless of any circumstances, are equal; with no more "more equal", quoting George Orwell.
2. Thanks to the pandemic, I have participated in two international conferences in May, which were held via Zoom virtual meeting app. At the registration section which everyone has to specify her nationality, there was no Iran to choose. I either had the choice to pick another country as my sight of residence or to quit the conference. It is more ludicrous when one considers that in one of the occasions, two panellists and the organizer himself were Iranian. It is then worth considering that while all the research topics were place-centred, despite the two Iranian academics, both of their works were on areas other than Iran.
3. In 2017, I had the chance to be in charge of an international collaboration between SBU*** in Iran and Aberdeen University in Scotland. An Iranian professor in Aberdeen had proposed the project. Although it took several hours of mine as well as some honoured Iranian professors of IAS, coordinating with agencies, holding group meetings and writing the proposal; Six months later, the host university announced that there is no formal way to define a joint project with a university in Iran.
4. SAH 2020 virtual conference was held in May. Being informed that some of its sessions have links to my PhD research, I emailed the organizers in April to see If there is any chance to attend the program while I have no Credit Card or PayPal account due to the sanctions; and the response was NO.
There is no legal way to get an international credit card, PayPal or foreign bank account directly for scholars who live in Iran; as for the sanctions, we do not have permission to move money from Iran to other countries. We cannot buy the resources we need from Amazon on a legal basis; we can not even get paid for our supposed foreign partnerships; we are not able to participate in the conferences individually.
5. In May 2015, I enrolled in "The Search for Vernacular Architecture of Asia", an introductory Coursera MOOC, which specified examples from various parts of Asia, mostly from the East and especially China (and Asia appears to be different from East Asia or China). There was no mention of vernacular architecture in Persia/Iran in any session at all.
6. we do not have a voice, although not entirely. There are more sever instances to enumerate from architectural history texts, my personal experiences and my family members and friends studying or teaching in Europe and Australia. They are not free to collaborate on funded research projects with Iranians inside Iran, though somehow this being implicitly imposed on them. Some are told not to choose their PhD students or research visitors from Iran.
7. Although marginalization, gender and racial inequality are among the trendy keywords of the early twenty-first century humanities and social sciences; and minority groups deprived of their rights have regained their voices, at least in theory and on papers, there is little chance that national inequality would be taken seriously irrespective of governments policies in the global academia.
Iranian scholars are subject to discrimination; Whereas the sanctions which have pressed all the commonalty living in Iran, and Iranian scholars as well, is not the result of the efforts these researchers are making in the general areas of the humanities and social sciences, efforts that have nothing to do with the nuclear Energy. We should not have to get used to this condition taking it for granted.
8. The contradictory situation is that while Iranian scholars internationally are not equal, local laws force them to publish their achievements in English. In reality, they are oppressed both by the local and global governments to the opposite directions.
To what extent are the Humanities and Social Sciences global? Unlike the Natural Sciences, Questions and Issues in the researches of humanities are extremely contextual as far as every society’s history, needs and concerns are distinctive even in this globalized world. To highlight this point, one should notice how the trends and mainstreams of research agendas in Iran differ from those of English speaking countries, how specific research agendas are formed in each country and even a university. (I do not claim that concepts, definitions and theories of the humanities are contextual, which is another matter to be regarded later).
The concerns and problems in the history, architectural history and historiography are very local, except for the fundamental questions regarding human existence philosophically and our global experiences naturally and somehow psychologically. And still, we as PhD students and faculty members have to publish our research findings in English journals due to the current university order, which means we have to consider questions and issues that emerged in other contexts and even when the questions address Iran, are not problematizing our society’s immediate or essential concerns.
9. In so far as we are supposed to publish our research results in the international journals; in choosing research topics and pursuing research methods and els, we are supposed to follow the mainstream of English Journals which themselves are ordered directly and indirectly by the universities, Institutes and organizations, governmental or nongovernmental, outside Iran who provide research budgets and funds.
10. All the above does not mean, in any way, that I am insisting on a nationalistic or egocentric research agenda or on embracing the inequalities to be integrated into the academic scene, not that I have no hope for a peaceful interaction for scholars in Iran and abroad.**** These all being said, I guess we might take advantage of this situation in a dialectic process. We have to quit our comfort zones to write in other languages. We leave egocentric assumptions, dwelling in a foreign house of being, which facilitates new ways of thought and brings new concepts and novel ideas. We have to find solutions for how to survive in the poisoned bureaucracy of the universities in Iran while simultaneously to learn how to Survive in the National Discrimination Storms toward Iranians in Global Academia! Dwelling in a foreign language, we have the opportunity to transform and shape this new house and contribute to the global adventure of humanity in pursuit of understanding. We might find ways to highlight peace and equality in our researches. Persophobia is not as old as Persophilia is.
* Literally, it is an 80’s song by Eagles which in one of the songs’ interpretations, Hotel California is a metaphor of this finite world.
** It stands for the Architectural Studies of Iran, a centre in SBU.
*** Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran
**** looking at the bright side, I have been cherished during my PhD research by scholars of nationalities all around the world, most of whom I have never seen, and to whom I am very grateful.